THE WEEKEND IN FOOTBALL

NFL Week 16 good, bad and ugly: Sorting out the playoff races

Marshon Lattimore's butt helped get an interception. Michael DeMocker of NOLA.com/Times Picayune

Week 16 in the NFL brought us more of what we should expect: the unexpected. Teams either solidified or lost playoff spots, some solidified draft positions. Either way, it was yet another exciting holiday weekend of football, with two games left on the docket.

The Good

-The Kansas City Chiefs won their third consecutive game and locked up the AFC West divisional crown by defeating the Miami Dolphins 29-13. The Chiefs started the season a dominant 5-0, but dropped six of their next seven games. Now 9-6 heading into the playoffs, they’re looking like a team no one wants to face in the AFC.

-Another week, another astonishing performance by Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley. In their 27-23 win over the Tennessee Titans, Gurley rushed for 118 yards, caught another 158 yards of passes, including two receiving touchdowns. With all the Tom Brady, Antonio Brown, Carson Wentz MVP talk, where does Gurley fit in?

-The New Orleans Saints beat NFC South division rival Atlanta Falcons 23-13 to secure a playoff berth. In what was supposed to be one of the better games to watch this weekend, the Saints took control early and never really felt threatened by the Falcons. Key turnovers contributed to their control of this game. Perhaps the play of the year came when Saints’ rookie Cornerback Marshon Lattimore caught an interception off his butt!

The Bad

-The Detroit Lions lost to the hapless Cincinnati Bengals 26-17 to eliminate them from playoff contention. The Bengals came into the game playing out the string of a disappointing season with a lame duck coach. The Lions came into the game fighting for an NFC playoff spot. For the Lions to only muster 276 total yards of offense and lose was terrible. (insert Herm Edwards’ “play to win the games” soundbite)

-The Dallas Cowboys lost at home to the Seattle Seahawks 21-12 in a loser leaves town cage match. Well, it was actually a loser doesn’t make NFC playoffs football game, but loser leaves town cage match sounds cooler. The Cowboys allowed a paltry 136 yards of offense, but committed three costly turnovers. Those turnovers ended up being the dirty ref that hit them with the steel chair as the Seahawks escaped the cage to win.

-The Jacksonville Jaguars clinched a playoff berth when the Titans lost, but they themselves looked very human as their defense was torched by Jimmy Garoppolo’s San Francisco 49ers 44-33. This isn’t the type of film the Jags want out there heading into a playoff berth. While most people assume they play a lot of man, they play more zone than most think, giving up 238 yards passing and two touchdowns. The 49ers also managed to run for 131 yards on the ground. This may not bode well when game plans will focus on your weaknesses in the playoffs.

The Ugly

-The Tampa Bay Buccaneers couldn’t spoil the Carolina Panthers hopes of a “win and get in” game next week because they lost 22-19. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fumbled the snap, but still rushed in the go ahead touchdown. Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston proceeded to get strip sacked, and thought he recovered the football on the ensuing drive. When the refs awarded the Panthers possession, Winston proceeded to throw the type of tantrum you’d expect from one of those kids who’s mom should probably spank instead of sending them to “time out.” Acting like a petulant child is okay for a spoiled brat, not an NFL quarterback.

-The Factory of Sadness continues as the Cleveland Browns lost to the Chicago Bears 20-3. The Browns have locked up the number one overall draft pick in consecutive years now. Here’s to hoping they can draft a franchise quarterback who’d like to help turn that franchise around. They’re an intriguing team to watch with the bounty of draft picks they have next year, the cap space they have, and the assembly line of young talent currently under contract. But for now, they’re 1-30 in the last two seasons, with a visit to Pittsburgh looming next week.

-The New York Jets lost 14-7 to the Los Angeles Chargers (still feels weird typing or saying that). This was a game in which if you strictly looked at the box score, you’d think the team with 197 rushing yards would’ve dominated. As far as I can remember/research, this is the first time since 2009 when a team lost a game in which it ran for that many yards. That team you ask: the
New York Jets.

There were so many pivotal moments this week in which games could’ve gone either way. Some teams competed hard no matter what was on the line. Some managed to piss the bed because they were so nervous. Either way, another great week of football is in the books. How do we call Lattimore’s interception? “Butt-erception?” “Ass-erception?” “Glut-erception?” Is New England quarterback Tom Brady poised to be league MVP at age 40? Or will Todd Gurley make a late season charge to win it? Will last year’s NFC Super Bowl rep (the Falcons) miss the playoffs? How far can the: 1)Philadelphia Eagles go without Carson Wentz? 2)…the Pittsburgh Steelers without Antonio Brown? So many questions left to be answered as week 16 comes to a close. Let’s see what week 17 and beyond has in store for us.

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Houston goes up 1-0 in the series

Altuve, Correa help lift Astros to ALCS Game 1 win over Red Sox

Carlos Correa's go-ahead homer in the seventh inning of ALCS Game 1 helped lift the Astros to a 1-0 series lead. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Despite one rough loss to the White Sox in the ALDS, the Astros looked like the dominant team they are capable of being, taking that series 3-1 to advance and taking ownership of home-field advantage in the ALCS against the Red Sox, who upset the Rays. In Game 1, despite trailing for the middle portions of the game, Houston would get more highlight moments from the faces of the franchise to start the series with a win.

Final Score: Astros 5, Red Sox 4

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): Houston leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: Ryne Stanek

Losing Pitcher: Hansel Robles

Houston strikes first, but Boston sends Valdez to an early exit

Both starting pitchers worked in and out of trouble in the early goings of ALCS Game 1, starting with Framber Valdez in the top of the first. After erasing a leadoff single by inducing a double play, he went on to load the bases on a single and two walks but would strand all three runners to keep Boston off the board. The Astros jumped in front in the bottom half, with Jose Altuve working a leadoff walk, moving to second on a one-out single by Alex Bregman, advancing to third on a wild pitch, then ultimately scoring on a sac fly by Yordan Alvarez to put Houston ahead 1-0 after one frame.

They had a chance to extend their lead in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of a shaky inning by Chris Sale, who loaded the bases with one out as Houston would get two singles and a hit-by-pitch. That flipped the order over to the top, but a great diving catch by former Astro Kiké Hernández would end the inning. Hernández led off the top of the third against Valdez, and he would tie things up with a solo homer.

Things went downhill from there for Valdez and the Astros, as a one-out walk followed by a single gave the Red Sox the go-ahead run in scoring position. On a groundball that likely should have been a double play to end the inning, it would get through Altuve's legs, scoring a run and keeping the inning alive for Boston. They took advantage, getting an RBI double to extend their new lead to 3-1. Valdez would get one more out before Dusty Baker would give him the early hook, bringing in Yimi Garcia, who finished the frame.

A battle of the bullpens, Altuve ties it up

Like Valdez, Sale would also not make it through three innings, getting two outs while putting two on base before Boston would start their bullpen's night as well. Both sets of relievers settled the game down, with the Red Sox stranding two of Houston's runners in the third as well as the fifth, maintaining their two-run lead. After Garcia finished the third, Cristian Javier entered to eat up a couple of innings, and he would do just that by getting through two frames with just one hit, four strikeouts, and no runs.

Next, Phil Maton took over in the top of the sixth and erased a leadoff walk to keep things in striking distance for the home team. In the bottom of the sixth, Houston put another runner on base, getting a one-out single by Chas McCormick. Two batters later, with two outs, Jose Altuve provided yet another career postseason highlight, tying the game 3-3 with a two-run home to re-energize the Minute Maid Park crowd.

Astros take ALCS Game 1

Now a brand new ballgame in the top of the seventh, Brooks Raley came in to face three batters, getting two strikeouts while allowing a single before Dusty Baker would move on to Ryne Stanek, who would get the third out. With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Carlos Correa continued his march to a monster off-season contract, putting Houston back on top with a solo homer, making it 4-3.

Houston kept the script after Stanek with the new lead in hand, going to Kendall Graveman as the setup man in the top of the eighth. Despite a two-out single, he would get out of the inning with the lead intact, putting Houston three outs away from the victory. After a walk, single, and hit by pitch to start the bottom of the eighth with the bases loaded, Altuve would drive in his third run of the game, getting a sac fly to extend the lead to two runs at 5-3.

That insurance run proved pivotal, as closer Ryan Pressly was met with a leadoff solo home run by Hernandez, his second of the night for Boston, to make it 5-4. Pressly refocused and was able to get the next three batters in order, though, wrapping up the win to start Houston off with a 1-0 series lead and putting them three wins away from advancing to the World Series.

Up Next: The two teams will have a moderately quick turnaround, with ALCS Game 2 scheduled to start at 3:20 PM Central on Saturday ahead of NLCS Game 1 between the Dodgers and Braves getting the night slot. The pitching matchup is expected to be Nathan Eovaldi for Boston, who is 1-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his two starts this postseason, going opposite Luis Garcia, who had a rough outing in the ALDS for Houston, giving up five runs without completing three innings in Chicago.

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